Tuesday, July 28, 2015

I Don't Do Politics

Do not say that you don't do politics. It doesn't make sense.

Politics will affect you whether you are in it or not. So you better be in it and make the political arena much better with your presence. That doesn't necessarily mean that you become a politician (if you can, then by all means go ahead).

What it does mean is that you become a well-informed, critical, intelligent citizen who knows his/her rights, who upholds justice even if it's against his/her self-interest, who is more concerned with the truth than with what's best for me and "my gang", who loves this country, and who seeks improvements for all.

Don't confuse politicians with politics. Politics is the tool, like a car. Politicians are its users, like its drivers. When an accident happens, don't blame the car. But blame the drivers. When politics don't go its way, don't blame the tool. But blame the users.

Evaluate what you can do for your country and its people. Focus on what you can control and seek to make the best out of it. Remind our leaders that they are in a position of community service, not self-service, and that they will be held accountable before God for everything they do.

Remind ourselves that politics affects everyone, even the silent ones.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Let Me Motivate You

The word "motivation" comes from the root word "motive" which means that which inwardly moves a person to behave a certain way (Source: Online Etymology Dictionary).

Once in a while I get asked, to give motivation to people, like it’s a candy that I can just give out to people. But motivation is, by definition, an internal force that moves a person to do something. So really, in technical terms, I can’t motivate people. I honestly don’t know how.

I don’t have the ability to internally move people. I can externally move you, but that wouldn’t be motivation because it doesn’t originate from the inside.

So I can’t motivate people. In fact, I’m not even trying to motivate people. What I am trying to do is I want to help people motivate themselves. I want to help them help themselves. I offer people encouraging words for them to use to motivate themselves, if they want to.

If they don’t want to, then there’s nothing I can do about it. I can’t force you to want something. Even if there is a world renown speaker in front of you, giving you his best words of encouragement but you don’t care for it, then that speech won’t do you any good.

That speech will not move you because you don’t give it permission to move you. So the power is in your hands. You have the power to motivate yourself. The power that I have as the speaker is to find the best way to deliver the message.

Whether or not you internalize that message into a motivation, that’s totally up to you.

We can’t outsource motivation to other people, thinking that they can just give motivation to us. We have to stop thinking that we are powerless and that we are in constant need of other people to move us.

If we keep thinking this way, then we will be in a constant reliance for other people to motivate us. But other people can’t be with us 24/7 to do that job for us. The only person who will be with us all the time is ourselves.

Motivation is not something that people can give to you. Motivation is something that you yourself have to generate inside. Other people can only encourage and support you, but they can’t move you. You have to move yourself.

So it has to start with you.

We have more power than we think we do. We have the power to motivate ourselves, and we might not even know it. We have to be our best motivators, so that whether we are alone or with other people, we can always find the driving force to move forward because that force is inside of us.

That’s my goal. My goal is to help people realize that they have this power for self-motivation. Of course, they can ask for help and support when they need to. But they should not fully rely on other people for motivation when they themselves are motivational enough.

You are motivational enough, if only you knew.


To learn more about how to motivate yourself and build your own confidence, do join us for our upcoming SPEAK UP! English Speaking Seminar.

Details can be found here.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

What's Best For You

We all want many things: we want that job, we want that scholarship, we want that promotion, we want to marry that person, we want to buy that house, we want to own that car, we want to have a child, we want to have a better child, and the list goes on and on. Our wants are endless.

The thing is, we might think that the thing that we want is what's best for us, but in reality it might not be. We are short sighted in how we see the world.

No matter how hard we try to predict how the future would be like, we still have no idea what will happen tomorrow or an hour from now or even a minute from now. That knowledge is Allah's domain, not ours.

But still, Allah encourages us to plan as a form of effort, not as a form of sealing the deal. We don't seal anything. We might think that if I have this thing, then my future would be better. But do we know that for sure, without a hint of a doubt?

In any type of human prediction, there's always doubt. For example, weather prediction has some of the most complex and thorough analyzing method I've ever seen. The data that is collected and analyzed is mind boggling. But still, even with that level of sophistication, we can't reach a 100% accuracy. There's always a margin of error; there's always a doubt.

We don't plan as if we know the future and we don't sit back and do nothing. We plan our lives as a form of effort and rely on Allah for what would be a better plan. That's the balance.

So if you want something, then go get it. Find the most honest way to get it. But if you don't end up getting it, then know that it might not be good for you.

We have to remember that du'a is not a demand, it is a request. We request Allah for something and He decides the outcome. We believe, or should believe, that whatever the outcome, that would be what's best for us - even if we may not understand it at the time.

At the same time, we are asked to try and try and try. Maybe we can try again getting that same thing or maybe we can try getting something else. If you ask me to conclude what is expected of us in one word, this is the word I'll use: try. Try your best, try sincerely, and you'll be rewarded. That's where the reward is: in your effort, not in your result.

Our effort is not lost and our request is not ignored. Allah listens to every dua and Allah rewards every sincere effort. Most importantly, Allah gives each individual not what the individual wants, but what is best for the individual.

It is not wrong to want something and to work for it. That's what we should do. But we do it with the mindset of acknowledging that even though I want this thing so badly, in the end only Allah knows if it is best for me or not.

Like a kid who wants to play with fire, not everything that we want is good for us, even though we might think and believe that we want is good for us. So when a parent stops the kid from playing with that fire, it’s natural to assume that the kid will retaliate, thinking that what’s good from him has been taken away.

But in reality, it’s the opposite: what’s bad is being taken away and what’s good is being given. We might not see it at the moment the thing that we want is being taken away from us, but with time and growth, we will see it and we will look back and say, “Thank God my parents never let me play with fire.”

Thank God. Thank God that He doesn't give us everything we wanted.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Illusion of Invincibility

Last Ramadan, we received a few news about serious injuries caused by playing firecrackers. Sadly, many of these injuries (usually lost of limbs) happen to children. Playing with firecrackers has become a culture in Malaysia, and news about injury is pretty common, unfortunately.

Usually playing with firecrackers has something to do with Syawal and Eid, but I think the firecracker celebration comes earlier and earlier every year. This year, I heard someone playing on the first day of Ramadan. The first day.

Every year, it is highly likely that you would hear on the news about someone being injured or someone losing a limb because of firecrackers. Last year, a 2-year-old died because of it.

You would think that after all the exposure to this kind of news people would stop playing firecrackers, right? But then again, it is the same case with pretty much anything else that’s harmful to us.

Take smoking as an example. There are so many studies about the harmfulness of smoking, it is surprising that people still do it. It is even stated on the cigarette pack about how harmful it is. It is so bad that Muslim scholars issued an official fatwa calling for its prohibition.

Talking about this fatwa thing, if you think about it, you do really need a fatwa for something that is obviously more harmful than beneficial? It is harmful to yourself, to other people, and to the environment. Some things are so obviously haram that you don’t need scholars to tell you that they are haram.

The real question still remains. Despite knowing the harm, why do people still do those things?

There are many possible reasons, and one of them is the mental illusion that we are somehow invincible to the harmful effects of doing those things. We think that those harmful effects only happen to other people, not us.

When we hear or read about a bad thing that happened to someone, like a kid who loses a finger while playing firecrackers, we don’t reflect upon the possibility that it could happen to us too.

Instead, we think that we are invincible, undefeated. That bad thing only happened to other people. It could never happen to us. Why? Because, we are different.

We’ve been playing firecrackers for years and never even got a scratch. We’ve been smoking for decades and never even got a serious cough, let alone lung cancer. So, we’ll be fine.

We like to think that we are the exception. But how many people who have lost a limb because of playing firecrackers or who have been diagnosed with cancer because of smoking, once thought that they too were the exception?

We don’t like to face the fact that we are in reality, that weak. But what’s wrong with realizing that we’re weak? Realizing that we’re weak is why we seek to better ourselves everyday. So what’s wrong with that?

Just because that bad thing doesn’t happen to us doesn’t mean that it will never happen to us. We should not be arrogant thinking that we are different. We should be thankful that the bad thing hasn’t happen to us yet, and that we still have a chance to change. We shouldn’t learn our lesson and change our ways only after bad things happen to us.

Playing firecrackers and smoking are just two examples. There are many other examples that we can think of. There are many other examples where we think that we are invincible, when in reality we are not.

I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about us, all of us. We all have this illusion of invincibility to some degree, and we should be aware of it. Being aware of it is our best defence against it.

We should be aware of the fact that it is possible that we too might be the victim, and that awareness enables us to take precautionary measures so that we don’t end up like that.

Prevention is better than cure. We hear that all the time. Some of us might be bored listening to us. Prevention is better than cure x3, it is so cliche. Well, some things are cliche because they are so true. This is one of them.

Prevention is better than cure. It is also less painful than cure. There are cases where prevention is painful. For example, quitting smoking is not easy. We should acknowledge that and give our full support to people who are trying to quit.

So prevention can be painful. But, if you compare that with the pain of curing, compare that with the agony of taking your medicine, and compare that with the regret of not taking heed of all the warnings, then you might think, “Maybe prevention is not that bad."

Monday, July 20, 2015

Be Thankful, Be Quiet

Some people might have the understanding that if you are thankful, then you should just accept whatever happens to you in the form of silence. You should not criticise. Just be thankful, and be quiet.

I am unfamiliar with that concept of thankfulness. The concept that I am familiar with is that thankfulness motivates you to contribute. When you are truly thankful, you have this positive urge inside to give back. You want to contribute.

Contribution doesn’t mean that you are passive. Contribution doesn’t mean that you remain silent when something unjust happens. That’s what we call cowardice, not contribution.

Contribution means that you are adding something positive or you modify something negative into a positive. You make the world into a better place, however small your contribution is.

Providing constructive criticisms is a part of contribution. The intention behind a constructive criticism is I want you to be better. Even though the criticism might sound negative to the listener, but the motive is to improve, not to insult.

So when you receive a legitimate, well-founded, and ethically-expressed constructive criticisms from people, you should not tell people to keep quiet and just be thankful. Plus, that’s a bit ironic because they are constructively criticising you out of thankfulness, not the other way around.

People who are thankful should and will contribute to make the world a better place. One of their contributions to that end is to correct you when you are wrong. If anyone should be thankful, it is you.

You should be thankful because you have people who care enough to give you valuable feedback and courageous enough to voice it out. You want people like this around because they will keep you on track.

What you don’t want are people who remain quiet when you made a mistake.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

When I Was Your Age

Someone asked me, “Why don’t I feel that it’s not Ramadan and it’s not Eid? The feeling and the atmosphere that I had when I was young was missing.”

When people asked me why they feel a certain way, it’s difficult for me to tell them what the reason is because I am not them. I don’t know what goes on inside of them.

I can’t tell you the reason for your feeling because only you know the reason. Because, it’s your feeling. Not mine. Having said that, what I can do is tell you a possible reason.

When you said that you don’t feel that it’s Ramadan and it’s Eid and when you said that the atmosphere that you had when you were young was missing, I can give one possible reason why that is.

Maybe, it’s because you are holding to a belief that things will stay the same, exactly how they are. Maybe you are holding on the sweet memories of childhood and you hope that the memories will keep on repeating themselves.

Putting the situation in that perspective, you can see why that belief may be a bit flawed, because nothing can or will stay the same. Things change, because people and cultures change. Especially in this day and age where changes are happening so fast.

But, there are things that shouldn’t change. These things are universal and they transcends time and place. It doesn’t matter when or where, these things should stay the same. These things are what make up our principles.

Principles shouldn’t change, but the way we apply those principles can change.

Lets take Eid as a case study. What is the principle behind Eid? It is a celebration, a way to show gratitude to Allah. How do we apply that principle? It varies according to time and place. The way we celebrate Eid 20 years ago is very different from the way we celebrate Eid today. Just ask your parents and they’ll tell you.

One of the things that we don’t like to hear from our elders is when they say, “When I was your age…” because we know what comes after that phrase is most probably going to be a comment about our generation.

Whether you realize it or not, you too will use the same phrase when you get older. You might be using it now. You might be telling to your little brothers or little cousins, “When I was your age, this is not how I celebrated Eid.”

We have to make peace with the fact that the way we celebrate Eid today is different from when we were young, and it will continue to change as time goes by. That’s how life is. Things change, and that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

The good thing that we can get from that realization is that we should cherish the moment while it still last. Because pretty soon, it’s going to be gone and what would remain is a collection of sweet memories. We should remind ourselves of those sweet memories, but we shouldn’t live in them.

Things change, for better or for worse. Not all changes are good. We always filter changes with our principles. If the changes are in line with the principles, then we should welcome those changes, even if we don’t prefer them.

As for Eid, as long as it remains a celebration, where people gather together to solidify bonds of kinship and friendship, where people enjoy themselves in a halal and good way, where people increase in gratitude, where the young respect the old and the old love the young, where the theme of the day is love and compassion, then we have no reason to complain.

But we have every reason to be happy.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Complexity of a Simple Cell

"Complexity is a property that is evident when encountered, but difficult to describe. For the present, we can think of complexity in terms of order and consistency. The more complex a structure, the greater the number of parts that must be in their proper place, the less tolerance of errors in the nature and interactions of the parts, and the more regulation or control that must be exerted to maintain the system. Cellular activities can be remarkably precise. DNA duplication, for example, occurs with an error rate of less than one mistake every ten million nucleotides incorporated—and most of these are quickly corrected by an elaborate repair mechanism that recognizes the defect."

(Source: Karp, Cell and Molecular Biology: Concepts and Experiments, 6e, Unit 1.2)

The paragraph above was taken from my Biology textbook. I was struck with awe at how something so minuscule could be so complex. If one reads with an eye of faith, one can't help but to think of God when contemplating on this scientific fact.

Many have asked how do we remember God while learning secular knowledge. To answer that, we need to begin by addressing the idea that knowledge is somehow compartmentalized into religious and secular knowledge.

In actuality, there is no compartmentalization These compartments are man-made and one can assume that it is done for a good reason. Compartmentalization is one way we organize things and this compartmentalization of knowledge may be a way that we organize knowledge.

Perhaps an indirect consequence of this compartmentalization is that the things we organize become separated without links, or to be more precise, the links have become hidden from plain sight. What was once only one, became many but many can still come from one.

For example, a tree consists of many branches but all the branches point to only one tree. The same concept can be applied to knowledge. Knowledge, like a tree, has many branches but they all point towards the same tree.

For all branches of knowledge, the tree is Tawheed (the Oneness of God). They all point to that reality.

This is by necessity, because if any of the branches is severed from the tree, then it will eventually die. In a way, severing the branches of knowledge from its main tree will slowly take the life out of the branches of knowledge itself.

Perhaps that is why so many Muslims asked the question of how to relate what they are learning in university with Islam, because they feel a sense of emptiness in what they are learning. The can't seem to read in between the lines of the paragraphs in their textbooks and see the bigger picture.

This seeing of the bigger picture requires a bit of practice. Considering that we have lived with this compartmentalization idea in our minds for so long, one can only imagine that it must be difficult to unravel this mindset and set it straight.

Difficult, but not impossible.

For me, it starts with the intention. If I intend to see God in what I am learning, then God-Willing, I will see it. This doesn't mean that I insert God in what I am learning. Since the branches of knowledge already point to God, I don't have to.

Tawheed is already there, so I don't have to insert anything. I just have to notice it. Having the right intention is the first step to noticing the right thing. But it is not enough. I need some sort of a navigational tool to guide me to the place I intend to go.

If I am traveling and I intend to go to a particular place, my intention alone will not get me there. I need a map or some other reliable tool of navigation. Similarly, I need a reliable tool to navigate myself along the branches of knowledge, heading towards the main tree of Tawheed.

Spirituality is not only a spiritual endeavour, it is also an intellectual one. So, one of the most important navigational tools is right inside our head - our mind. We shouldn't undermine the importance of the mind in our spiritual quest.

In his paper entitled Living Islam with Purpose, Dr. Umar Faruq Abd' Allah stated, "God endowed human beings with dignity, and the capacity to reason is one of the principal grounds of their unique distinction among beings. The rational order of the universe makes it accessible to human reason and transforms it from a world of random phenomena into a marvelous sign of God and an object of speculation and scientific investigation."

He stated the quote above under the first sub-heading of his paper, appropriately entitling it as "Trusting Reason".

The Islamic concept of spirituality puts sound reasoning as one of its core principles. One cannot be spiritually mature without being intellectually mature at the same time. The mind is a gift from God, and it should be utilized properly.

Otherwise, it would be waste of something so valuable.

One should exercise one's mind to its full capacity, while at the same time realizing that the mind has a limit. This is where so many people cross the line between sound reasoning and no reasoning. The mind is incapable of conceptualizing everything about everything.

For Muslims, this is where we start to fully rely on Revelation. We shouldn't tread in territories where the mind can't go. As great as the mind truly is, there are certain questions that it cannot answer by itself.

That is the reason why so many great scholars of Islam, after exercising their intellect to its full capacity, they always end their reasoning process with the statement "Allahua'lam" or as it is normally translated in English, "Allah knows best."

This awareness is central to the Islamic faith and it keeps Muslims grounded in humility. We don't claim to know everything and we don't claim to have the capacity to know everything. We realize and acknowledge our limitations as human beings and as slaves of the Almighty.

Having said that, it doesn't mean that we remain intellectually idle. Despite having limitations, it is amazing how far the mind can go within those limitations. So, to acknowledge the reality of its limitations is by no means to undermine its powerful reasoning abilities.

The use of these two main navigational tools, the mind and the Revelation, is our guide to get us to the place we intend to go. With the right intention, the right attitude, and the right use of these tools, we can train our eyes to see Tawheed, in all its manifestations within any branch of knowledge.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

[SPONSORED] Asus ZenFone 2: Capturing Memories

I watched Ed Sheeran’s music video for his song “Photograph” when I had this idea; to document snippets of my child’s life.

It is easy to miss the growth of our child, even if he is right there in front of us. Reason? We don’t pay attention. Most of us are too busy with our work life that we wake up in the morning thinking about it, we go through the day in it, and we sleep in the night worrying about it.

Work is noble, but when work gets in the way of family, then we have to stop and ponder: is it worth it? Ironically, many of us work to provide for our family. Our family is the motivation behind our work. But the unintended consequence goes against our best intention in the first place.

We work to provide for our family, but our family doesn’t feel provided. In reality, many neglected children (even the rich ones) would feel a sense of emptiness inside without the care and the attention of their parents. Parents think that they can somehow fill the emptiness with physical provision.

What they don’t realize is the emptiness is not the emptiness of presents but it is the emptiness of presence. They don’t want your stuff. They want you.

I think documenting my child’s life can serve as a reminder for me for what matters most to me as a father. To think that I would be immune to the preoccupation of work life is a bit premature. I expect that I would forget. So I plan to remind myself in advance.

Thankfully, the tools that we can use today to document our children’s lives are plenty and they are affordable. Before, not all families have camcorders. Now, almost everyone has a smartphone and all smartphones can record videos (among other things).

Recently, Asus was generous enough to let me try out their new ZenFone 2 ZE551ML. It comes in 5 different colours (Osmium Black, Glacier Gray, Glamour Red, Ceramic White, and Sheer Gold). They one that they sent me is Glamour Red in colour.

It looks great, especially with the metallic finish at the back. It feels nice in my hand and it doesn’t slip easily. The button arrangement is unorthodox; they put no buttons on either side. The power button is at the top, next to the earphone jack and the volume button is on the back.

Volume button on the back? I’m not familiar with this design, but it is not difficult to get use to. It makes sense since placing the button at the back and at the top makes it user-friendly for both right- handed and left-handed individuals.

The volume button is below the camera, which has great picture and video quality. I tested it out in low light environment and I was satisfied with the amount of light it manages to capture. I recorded short clips using the phone and the video quality was crisp and clear. It is a decent device if I want to take pictures or videos of my child.

This phone has the convenient feature called ZenMotion for all the shortcut lovers out there. I can launch an app easily by drawing a specific letter on the screen. That specific letter corresponds to a specific app on the phone (for example, draw the letter “C” to launch the camera app). It can be
launched even when the screen is black. With ZenMotion, I can turn the screen on by double- tapping on the screen, without having to press the power button.

One thing that surprises me about the phone is the performance that it packs into its slender figure. It is like having a gaming computer in the palm of your hands. With 4GB of RAM, 64-bit Quad Core Intel ATOM Processor, it is able to play games I would normally play in a console.

How times have changed.

I still have more time with the phone. This is just a few of my first impressions about it. I will post more about the phone on my social media sites pretty soon.

Thank you ASUS for letting me play with your phone. I won’t break it (I hope not).


This blog post is sponsored by Asus Malaysia. If you would like to know more about the phone, you can visit their sites here: